The AMP 18U boys water polo team was understandably somber after a humbling first day of the Junior Olympics.
AMP dropped two winnable contests to open the tournament, surrendering 28 total goals.
The bad start dropped David Svendsen’s squad into the Bronze bracket, with all signs pointing to an early exit. Instead, the team regrouped on the second day and fought back into medal contention with six consecutive victories. AMP fell in the semifinals but bounced back again to secure third place with a 12-10 victory over a team from Utah.
“When you have a senior-laden team like we have, the expectations are always going to be high,” Svendsen said. “The kids would have preferred to win a game on the first day and stay in the Gold or Platinum divisions, but they didn’t hang their heads.
“They came together and really bought in to what we wanted to do defensively over the last three days.”
The team was comprised mostly of players from Atwater, Buhach Colony and Merced high schools. Included in the group were Central California Conference standouts Josh Heller, Ben Peterson, Mitchell Moreda, Matt Cagle, Isaac Santana, Christian Cortez and Andrew Navarro.
Loaded as the team was, Svendsen said the best performance may have come from inside the cage.
After taking a beating on the opening day, Buhach Colony senior Brandon Gordian was a rock the rest of the way. His stellar goalkeeping, coupled with the team’s improved defensive effort, helped spark a run of six victories.
“I think Brandon knew the first day wasn’t up to his standards,” Svendsen said. “Giving up 28 goals in two games is obviously not his game.
“I’m not sure what changed. I don’t know if he went and watched something and picked out a technical flaw or what, but he was lights out the rest of the way.”
Svendsen said what started as a potential laugher in the consolation game quickly turned into an intense battle. AMP led 5-0 at the end of the first quarter but then trailed 6-5 at halftime.
“I think the guys ran out of gas a little bit and thought the other team was going to roll over after we got that 5-0 lead,” Svendsen said. “I didn’t say much at halftime. I just let them get hydrated and then pointed out that we needed to get back to the defensive transition game that had gotten us there.
“It worked. Ben scored a transition goal right away to start the second half, and then Chris Cagle had two big ones in the fourth to put the game away.”